The duty to disobey
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The dissertation investigates our moral obligations in the face of injustice. Contemporary political philosophers have largely neglected this issue, focusing instead on what they call the "problem of political obligation"; that is, whether subjects of just and nearly just societies have a moral duty to obey the law because it is the law. Philosophers fail to consider the obligations of citizens in polities with significant and pervasive injustice. They sometimes recognize that civil disobedience may be morally justified, but they never consider the possibility that it might be morally required. This failure to consider the possibility that one may have a duty to disobey unjust laws and resist injustice is surprising given that the paragons of civil disobedience-to wit, Henry D. Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.-treated resistance to injustice as a matter of moral obligation. The dissertation shifts attention away from the orthodox question, Is there a moral duty to obey the law?, towards the morally urgent question, When is one morally required to disobey the law? Chapter 1 examines the literature on political obligation and civil disobedience, and elaborates on the dissertation's project and motivation. To inquire into citizens' obligations in the face of injustice, the dissertation employs the normative principles commonly used to ground a moral duty to obey the law. Chapters 2-5 are each devoted to one standard ground of political obligation, namely: the principle of fairness, the natural duty of justice, the Samaritan duty, and associative duties. Each chapter clarifies the normative principle under consideration, and develops an account of the duty to resist injustice and disobey the law based on that principle. Chapter 6 summarizes the resulting "multiple principle" theory of obligations in the face of injustice, and complements it with an account of second-order duties focused on overcoming obstacles to the perception of injustice and recognition of one's responsibilities.
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